Michael Malone had never seen anything like it.

At halftime of the Nuggets’ 31-point blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers last week, Malone turned on a film edit that highlighted Denver’s best defensive plays from the opening two quarters. The Nuggets had just held the Clippers to 32 points on 27% shooting. Kawhi Leonard was shooting 2-7 from the floor. Paul George was 1-9.

Inside the Nuggets’ locker room, players clapped as Malone went through Denver’s standout defensive possessions from the first half. They cheered as one defensive stop after another played on the big screen. It was a boisterous, raucous halftime atmosphere that Malone wasn’t used to. It was the first time in his 30 years of coaching that he had experienced that type of halftime reaction.

“I think it reinforced to our guys that everything we’ve talked about is right in front of us,” Malone said.

The scene that played out in the Nuggets’ locker room that night provides a sliver of insight into how locked in Denver is right now. The Nugget beat the LeBron James, Anthony Davis-less Lakers 122-109 at Ball Arena in a game that was never that close. The NBA’s best offense didn’t have a particularly good night — the Nuggets shot 46% from the field, 36% from three and turned it over 17 times — but it didn’t matter. Denver frustrated the Laker offense and eased to its 13th win in 16 games. The Nuggets are now 17-3 at home and tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the best home record in the NBA.

The word right now that’s circulating around the Nuggets is “connected.” It’s a word that a lot of people within the organization are using to talk about the current state of this team. They’re connected on offense. They’re connected on defense. Everyone knows their role. Everyone is doing their part. It’s a tone that’s of course set by Nikola Jokic, who dominated Monday’s win while attempting only five shots (he made all five) and finished with a 14-point, 11-rebound, 16-assist triple-double. The Nuggets are playing unselfish basketball. They’re playing for each other.

Kentavious Calwell-Pope, who’s new in Denver this season, frequently talks to Nuggets coaches about all the open shots he gets throughout a game even though he doesn’t get any plays called for him. He knows that if he does his job, runs the floor, and plays the right way, he’ll get his. Caldwell-Pope is in basketball heaven.

It’s hard not to get really excited about the Nuggets right now. I’ve never seen a team score easier than Denver this season. The Nuggets are gradually ramping up defensively too. Denver has the 12th-best defense over its last 15 games. If you look up and down the Western Conference it’s as wide-open as ever. From talking with people around the Nuggets, you gather that the only West team that Denver has any real worry about is the Warriors.

Everything’s coming together for the Nuggets, and Jamal Murray’s looking more and more comfortable by the game. His play was the most encouraging takeaway from the Nuggets’ latest win. Murray went for a season-high 34 points against the Lakers, converted 5-of-9 from 3-point range and tallied 7 rebounds, 4 assists and two steals. He went to the rim with confidence all night. He aggressively attacked the paint when the opportunity presented itself. He played physical defense.

“This was just an all-around Jamal Murray type of a basketball game,” said Malone.

Here’s another sign that Murray is almost all the way back: He and Dennis Schroder were going at each other Monday night. That matchup got physical on the perimeter and in the post. And Murray was the aggressor. It was one of his best nights of the season, but Murray downplayed his performance afterward.

“I was just playing basketball,” he said.

It’s a tell that while he’s in a real groove right now, Murray knows there’s another gear that he and the Nuggets can get to. There’s another level they can reach.

As long as the Nuggets stay connected, they’ll get there.


Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. Hear him every day on the DNVR Nuggets Podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind